Top Hand & Upper Extremity Injuries Prompting ER / Urgent Care Visits

Hand and upper extremity injuries account for over half of the orthopedic injuries seen in an ER or Urgent care center.

Fractures among most common ER/Urgent Care injuries

Fractures among most common ER/Urgent Care injuries

According to a 2012 study published in the Hand journal, the most common region injured is the finger (38.4%), and the most common upper extremity injury was a fracture (29.2%). Specific injuries with high incidence rates (all per 100,000 per year) included finger lacerations (221), wrist fractures (72), finger fractures (68), and lower arm fractures (64). [1]

While home is cited as the most common setting for an upper extremity injury, sports injuries in the field run a close second.

A few of the most common hand and upper extremity injuries include:

  • Contusions and Lacerations
  • Fractures
  • Sprains and Dislocations

Hand and Upper Extremity Contusions and Lacerations

Contusions and lacerations can result from an accident, fall or sports injury.  Both should be carefully assessed, as damage to nerves, tendons and bone may exist.

Contusions

Contusions occur when a direct blow strikes part of the body, crushing underlying muscle fibers and connective tissue without breaking the skin.

Contusions cause swelling and pain, and limit joint range of motion near the injury. Torn blood vessels may cause bluish discoloration (bruising). The injured muscle may feel weak and stiff.

Sometimes a pool of blood collects within damaged tissue, forming a lump over the injury known as a hematoma. Swelling and bleeding beneath the skin in severe cases may cause shock. If tissue damage is extensive, there may also be a broken bone, dislocated joint, sprain, torn muscle, or other injury.

Diagnostic tools used to assess the extent of the damage may include ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography (CT) scans.  For some injuries, testing for nerve injury may also be indicated.  Treatment will depend on the extent of the injury, though RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is encouraged for contusions until a physician can be seen.

Follow up is important to thoroughly assess the scope of soft tissue damage.  Complications that can occur from contusions include compartment syndrome and myositis ossificans.

Lacerations

Lacerations often result from a cut with a knife, piece of glass or other sharp object. It can be difficult for patients to determine how deep and how damaging a laceration may be.

Concerns include:

  • Length and depth of cut (more than 1/4” deep with visible deep tissue)
  • Visible bone
  • Width of cut and inability to squeeze skin closed
  • Severe bleeding
  • Cleanliness of cut (item causing cut) and possible debris in the wound

An ER or Urgent Care clinic can address these types of injuries, properly cleaning the wound and bandaging and/or suturing (stitching).  Lacerations of the hand and upper extremity should be further evaluated by a specialist to determine if there is damage to surrounding nerves, tendons or other soft tissue.  If unaddressed permanent loss of sensation or range of motion can result.

Hand and Upper Extremity Sprains and Dislocations

Unlike a fracture, sprains and dislocations do not cause a break in the bone.  These types of injuries are usually the result of extreme stretching of the limb, occurring from a twist, hit or fall.  A sprain is a tear (minor or severe) in a ligament, which connects bones.  Symptoms may include pain, swelling, and bruising.

A dislocation occurs when the bones meeting at a joint are disrupted and moved out of their natural alignment.  This is a common injury to the fingers.  Symptoms may include severe pain during movement and an obvious deformity.

While initial treatment will depend on the severity of the injury, most sprains will resolve on their own with RICE (rest, ice, compression and possibly elevation).  A dislocation may require reduction (placing the joint back into proper alignment) and a brief period of immobilization with a splint.  Injuries should be assessed more thoroughly by a specialist to ensure that there is no further damage to surrounding nerves, ligaments or tendons.

 

Hand and Upper Extremity Fractures

Fractures are among the most commonly seen injuries in the ER or Urgent Care setting.

Fracture type can vary and are treated differently in the adolescent child and adult.

Fracture type can vary and are treated differently in the adolescent child and adult.

These types of injuries most commonly occur to the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and hand/finger as a result of a fall onto an outstretched arm or block from a harsh impact.  This is particularly true of sports injuries.

With both the frequency and intensity of youth sports participation higher than ever, understanding the significant anatomical differences between the skeletally immature patient and the skeletally mature patient is also key in properly identifying and treating the variety of musculoskeletal injuries that occur to the hand and upper extremity.

Fracture Type

There are many different types of fractures, all of which fall into one of two categories – displaced and non displaced.  A displaced fracture means that the parts of the bone at the break are not in alignment and require realignment before healing can begin.  A non displaced fracture means that the break did not disrupt the alignment of the bone.

A displaced fracture can sometimes cause the bone to pierce through the skin, which is known as an open or compound fracture.

Because the lining of the bone is thicker in children, diminishing with age, the most common fractures seen in adolescents are non displaced buckle and greenstick fractures (affecting the wrist and forearm bones).  In adults, fractures tend to be more severe – often displaced and comminuted (multiple bone fragments requiring more complicated reassembly). Common fractures seen in adults are wrist fractures (distal radius fractures and scaphoid fractures).

An x-ray will help determine the type of fracture and best treatment.  Initially, most fractures can  be safely splinted and supported with a sling, until an orthopedic specialist is seen.  Prompt followup with an orthopedic physician is important, particularly for displaced fractures.  Most ER and Urgent Care centers will provide patients with a digital copy of their x-ray for followup with a specialist.

Fracture Care

Most non displaced fractures heal well with a period of casting followed by rehabilitation exercises.  Displaced fractures first require realignment, which is known as either closed reduction (non surgical) or open reduction (surgical).  Surgical repair will also include internal fixation with plates and screws to ensure the bone pieces remain aligned while healing.

Close followup with a hand and upper extremity specialist is key for proper healing of fractures and reduced risk of future problems affecting the injured bone and nearby joints.

References

1.) Daan Ootes, Kaj T Lambers, David C Ring. The epidemiology of upper extremity injuries presenting to the emergency department in the United States. Hand (NY). 2012;7(1):18-22.  Published online 2011 Dec 14. doi:  10.1007/s11552-011-9383-z

Ring Avulsion, a Traumatic Finger Injury

Recently talk show host Jimmy Fallon explained to his audience how a seemingly minor fall nearly cost him a finger – shedding light on a rare yet serious finger trauma known as a Ring Avulsion injury.

Ring avulsion results from the mechanism of crushing, shearing and avulsion, inducing severe macroscopic and microscopic damage. This type of injury often occurs when a ring that an individual is wearing is caught on an object, usually during a fall or jump.  It can also occur when caught on fast moving equipment or just simply in a “freak” accident.

Damage from the abrupt and often harsh tug of the caught ring can range from a simple contusion to “degloving” of soft tissue – pulling the skin off circumferentially and stripping away the nerves, tendons and bone. Severe accidents may result in traumatic amputation of the finger.

Ring avulsion can be among one of the most devastating traumatic finger injuries, as often replantation following severe soft tissue damage is not possible – requiring revision amputation.

Fortunately, advances in microsurgery and interposition graft techniques have improved results with ring avulsion replantation.  Patients should see a hand specialist immediately after the injury is identified.

Symptoms of Ring Avulsion

While Fallon knew he had severely injured his finger in his fall, the extent of the damage and seriousness of the injury was not completely revealed until his examination and x-ray.  Prompt attention and surgical care from a specialized hand team fortunately saved his finger.

The severe damage that can occur in a ring avulsion case is not always evident to a patient. Immediate examination and x-ray assessment are necessary.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Lack of sensation at the tip
  • Disfigurement
  • Finger discoloration or whitening

In severe cases, part of the finger is removed from the bone or completely severed (traumatic amputation).

Diagnosing and Treating Ring Avulsion

When a patient presents with this type of finger trauma, the wound is cleaned and inspected for visible avulsed vessel, nerve, and tendon.  Damaged skin edges are also assessed.  An x-ray may also be indicated before determining the type of avulsion a patient has incurred.  If a portion of the finger is separated, an x-ray is performed on both the amputated part and the remaining digit to fully asses damage and likelihood of replantation.

If there is a separated part, it is wrapped in a saline gauze and placed in a bag with ice water.  The patient is given antibiotics and tetanus prophylaxis.

The injury is then classified using one of several ring avulsion classification systems that exist.  Most commonly used is the Urbaniak Classification system.  The class of ring avulsion (Class 1, 2, or 3) will help determine treatment.

The goal of the hand surgeon is to salvage, maintain function and, if possible, provide an esthetic appearance.

Commonly used classification chart for Ring Avulsion injuries.

Commonly used classification charts for Ring Avulsion injuries.

Avoiding Risk of Ring Avulsion

It is difficult for patients to understand how otherwise inconsequential stumbles or movements can result in the damage or loss of a digit when a ring is involved.  We often forget that the bones and joints of the hand and wrist are small and capable of sustaining just so much force. Skin is the finger’s strongest part.  Once the skin tears, the remaining tissue quickly degloves. Though rare, the potential harm that a ring can pose should be considered – particularly when performing certain extracurricular or sports activities, or when working with machinery. Unfortunately many accidents resulting in a ring avulsion are not anticipated nor could be imagined.  Prompt attention is key to a successful outcome.

References

Flagg SV, Finseth FJ, Krizek TJ. Ring avulsion injury. Plast Reconstr Surg. 1977;59:241–8.

Brooks D, et al. Ring avulsion: injury pattern, treatment, and outcome. Clinics in Plastic Surgery April 2007 ;34(2):187-95, viii.

Fejjal N, Belmir R, Mazouz S El, Gharib NE, et al. Finger avulsion injuries:  A report of four cases.  Indian J Orthop. 2008 Apr-Jun; 42(2): 208–211.

Sears ED, Chung KC.  Replantation of finger avulsion injuries:  A systematic review of survival and functional outcomes.  J Hand Surg Am. 2011;36(4):686-94.

 

Don’t Let Injuries Dampen Your Family’s Fourth of July Fun!

Coast to coast, the Fourth of the July is one of the most celebrated holidays of summer and an opportunity to enjoy every bit of what the outdoor has to offer.  Unfortunately there are thousands of injuries incurred across the United States every year at this time, as a result of firework accidents.

Ensuring family fun this Fourth of July.

Ensuring family fun this Fourth of July.

Unofficially, those at highest risk for firework injuries are teenaged boys.  Adult men closely follow in the second highest risk group, according to reports of ER physicians and orthopedic hand specialists….

It is estimated that over 40 percent of firework injuries occur to the hand and upper extremity.

Injuries most commonly occur when an ignited firework seemingly fails to go off, though explodes when checked – often in a hand.  Other injuries occur from the unexpected heat many fireworks omit.  Even an unassuming “sparkler” can heat to over 2000 degrees, capable of causing 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

The fireworks most implicated in causing injury include small firecrackers, bottle rockets and sparklers, because they are the least feared.

Among the most common hand and upper extremity traumatic injuries caused by fireworks include:

  • Burns
  • Contusions and lacerations
  • Damage to bones, muscle, ligaments and nerves 

Medical Attention for a Traumatic Firework Injury

To avoid permanent damage to the hand and wrist, it is important to seek immediate attention for a traumatic firework injury.

With approximately 50 nerves in the hand, 34 muscles moving the fingers and thumb, over 120 known ligaments, 30 major joints, 30 bones and a myriad of connective tendons, it is imperative that you follow up with a hand specialist following an ER or urgent care visit should such an accident happen.

Hand function and quality of life is dependent on not only immediate care but proper follow up to a hand injury.  If such injuries are not adequately addressed, irreversible nerve and tendon damage can impair hand feeling and movement, and the early onset of osteoarthritis from post traumatic bone and joint damage can further hinder hand function.

Reducing Risks of Traumatic Firework Injury

While many of the tips for reducing risk of hand injury trauma from fireworks seem common sense, they are often lost during the festivities surrounding such holidays and warrant repeating.

  • Ignite all fireworks with extended lighters.
  • Remain a safe distance from ignited fireworks.
  • Allow sufficient time for fireworks to go off / explode before approaching (and handle previously ignited fireworks with an extended apparatus such as BBQ tongs).
  • Supervise young children holding sparklers, advise teens of the heat hazard of these and other small, seemingly harmless fireworks.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of the July!

STRIKE!

Looking behind the baseball at UCL injuries … and the role former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John plays

 

The goal of every great baseball pitcher is to strike out the batter.  To do this requires not only talent but extreme power every…single…pitch.

Few other athletes are required to throw with this kind of power as frequently as a pitcher.

Over the course of a baseball career, particularly if begun at a young age and played competitively, this high speed force repeatedly placed on the elbow can take a toll.

Often beginning with Little Leaguer’s Elbow, a condition affecting young pitchers who do not allow adequate rest between pitches, a baseball player’s elbow joint absorbs a tremendous amount of repetitive stress over the seasons.  The impact of this type of overhead throwing irritates the tendons and ligaments supporting the elbow joint, predisposing pitchers to more serious problems.  One such injury is an Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) injury.

Once seen primarily in adult athletes, the dramatic increase in more serious overuse injuries like UCL damage, Flexor Tendinitis and Valgus Extension Overload (VEO) in young players prompted the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) and the USA Baseball, Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball organizations to establish Pitch Count Guidelines.

While these changes and educational efforts are expected to reduce the number of overuse injuries seen in young players, competitive league players remain at risk.

Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) Injury

Elbow Anatomy and UCL Injury

The Elbow Joint and location of the Ulnar Collateral Ligament

The ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) is among the most commonly injured ligament in throwing athletes.  To accommodate the high speed throwing motions, the ligament stretches and lengthens until it can no longer hold the elbow bones tightly enough. Severity of the injury can range from a sprain with minor damage and inflammation to a complete tear.

Symptoms Include:

baseball bullet

Pain on the inside of the elbow

baseball bulletA feeling of instability in the elbow

baseball bulletLoss of strength in throwing

baseball bulletIrritation of the ulnar nerve (funny bone) causing numbness in the small and ring fingers

Diagnosis and Treatment

A UCL injury is diagnosed based on the results of a physical examination, X-ray and MRI.  Depending on the severity of the damage, rest and refrain from play along with rehabilitative exercises and anti inflammatory medication may be indicated. Work with an athletic trainer may also be helpful, to assess throwing mechanics and improve body positioning which can reduce excessive stress on the elbow.

If there is a complete tear of the ligament and patients fail to improve with conservative treatment, surgery may be indicated.

The UCL reconstruction procedure, which was performed on former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy John and is more commonly known as Tommy John surgery today, has dramatically changed the outcome for athletes.  In fact, his results were so impressive, it is reported that young players not actually suffering from a UCL injury have sought Tommy John surgery in hope that it would improve their performance [1]!  The procedure, though, is performed only when necessary to repair a severely torn UCL.

Tommy John surgery is a surgical graft procedure in which the injured UCL is replaced with a tendon graft taken from the forearm or the hamstring tendons.  This procedure is followed by an intense rehabilitation program that lasts from six months to a year, depending on the position an athlete plays.  Throwing exercises can begin in about 16 weeks.

The Role Tommy John Continues to Play

In the medical community, Tommy John remains credited with the shift in how athletes view UCL injuries. Once career ending, today UCL reconstruction has become a common procedure – returning most athletes to their sport at a pre injury level of play.

In the sports world, Tommy John is still revered for the excellent athlete he was, choosing baseball as his sport of choice and playing in all three of the Yankees vs Dodgers World Series in his era (1977, 1978 and 1981).

Undergoing the procedure in 1974 and spending his entire 1975 season in recovery, he learned to pitch in a way that relieved the stress he was placing on his arm and leg.  He returned to the Dodgers in 1976. His 10-10 record that year was considered “miraculous.”  But, he went on to pitch until 1989 winning 164 games after his surgery – just one game shy of baseball great Sandy Koufax.

The recognition he received for his unexpected success following the procedure now donning his name became the launching pad for other endeavors benefiting young baseball players.

His “Let’s Do It” foundation, which umbrellas the Tommy John Pitching Academy, is today dedicated to research in preventing such injuries and teaching pitching techniques that minimize the physical impact. The foundation also supports the efforts of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) and its collaborators’ STOP Sports Injuries Campaign as well as the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP).  AFSP and its outreach effort is an important component in the foundation’s efforts in memory of his son.

 References

  1. Longman, Jere. Fit young pitchers see elbow repair as cure-all. 2007 Jul.

 

 

Baseball Fit – Preventive Exercises for a Winning Season

As weather warms and winter sports wind down, attention turns to the promise of a new baseball season and the championships ahead.

Now is the time to begin preparing.High School baseball

At the core of a successful team are strong players – physically strong, well rested and well conditioned.

Baseball is one of the few sports played almost daily throughout the entire season.  For young players beginning in little league, this amounts to a lot of plays by high school.  The frequency of repetitive stress injuries in youth baseball have increased over the years, particularly with the rise in special “elite” teams and extended seasons. This is most evident in young pitchers, on which much research has focused and for which Pitch Count guidelines have been developed.

Although baseball is not considered a contact sport, injuries can result from contact with the ball and other players, as well as poor form/technique, or an awkward movement during a play.

Some of the most common baseball injuries include:

  • Injuries in the shoulder and elbow (Little Leaguer’s Shoulder, Little Leaguer’s Elbow)
  • Knee injuries
  • Muscle pulls
  • Ligament injuries
  • Fractures (Finger, Distal Radius/Wrist)
  • Concussions 

While some injuries resulting from collision with another player are getting hit by the ball cannot be avoided, exercise can aid in reducing risks or preventing many repetitive stress related injuries.

Repetitive injuries are the result of repetitive use, stress and trauma to the soft tissues of the body (muscles, tendons, bones and joints), which are not given adequate time for proper healing. They are sometimes called cumulative trauma, repetitive stress or overuse injuries.

To avoid such repetitive stress conditions and muscle fatigue, players should have a dedicated fitness program – ideally one that is also specific to the position they play.  This should include overall strengthening and endurance, along with specific exercises to equally strengthen the muscles of the limb(s) most used. Such fitness programs should also include stretching and rest between play.

Exercise programs should also be age appropriate. Young, developing players are encouraged to build strength through resistance rather than weights. Involvement in other seasonal sports such as swimming and running can also provide excellent overall strengthening and endurance.

Strength and Conditioning Exercises – Upper Body

As a throwing sport, exercises for baseball concentrate heavily on the upper body – arms and shoulder. Core strength is also essential for pitching velocity, hitting power and running speed.

The key to any exercise program is the balanced/equal strengthening of muscle groups. For the upper body, this includes triceps/biceps, trapezius, rotator group, and deltoids.

Some Effective Arm, Shoulder and Core Exercises Include:

  • Resistance bands – These can be effective in building arm and shoulder strength. (View video on how these bands are used in exercise programs.)
  • Push ups – Traditional push ups are very effective in building upper body strength (arms, shoulders, back and core/abdominal muscles).
  • Pull ups – Using your own body weight/strength these work on the biceps, upper shoulder and back, upper abdominals and obliques.
  • The Plank – strengthens the core, lower back and oblique muscles. (View video demonstration of the Plank.)

Exercises to Improve Leg Strength

Lower body strength and conditioning is as important as upper body training for young athletes. Leg strength impacts throwing velocity, bat speed/force and running speed.

Squats, lunges and running are among the most effective ways to strengthen the lower body.

Stretching

Stretching is a very important part of an exercise program for athletes in any sport. During exercise and play muscles contract. When muscles contract, they produce tension at the point where the muscle is connected to the tendon. Stretching helps lengthen, relax and restore muscles to their natural state.

Stretching following activity is as important as stretching while warming up before practice and play.

Some easy, yet effective stretches include:

  • Elbow Pulls – Raise the right arm as though asking a question and drop the forearm behind the head though leaving the elbow in the air. Pull the elbow to the left with the left arm until you feel the stretch, hold briefly then repeat several times. Do the same on the opposite side.
  • Cross Body Arm Pulls – Straighten your right arm and pull it across the front of your body, cradling the forearm and elbow with the left hand, pull the arm towards the left across the body until you feel the stretch. Hold the stretch briefly, then repeat on the opposite side.
  • Shoulder Stretch – Lay face down on a floor mat and stretch arms overhead to form a “Y,” with palms facing down on the floor. With forehead on the ground, retract shoulder blades while lifting arms off the ground (still outstretched). Hold for a couple of seconds while squeezing the shoulder blades together. Be careful not to “shrug” the shoulders up. Return to starting position and perform several sets of 10 repetitions. To work the back a little differently, perform this same exercise with the arms straight out to your sides, forming the shape of a “T.”
  • Runner’s Lunge – Position into a deep lunge on your right leg, drop the knee of your left leg and lean forward over the right quad until you feel the stretch, hold for several seconds. Repeat on opposite leg.
  • Hamstring Stretch – Stand flat on the floor with feet a little less than hip width apart. Lean forward and place palm of your hands flat on the floor just in front of your feet, hold for several seconds.

TOP PREVENTION TIP

Resting is as important as any of the components in a successful training program.

Track and Field Hand & Upper Extremity Injuries and Conditions

As track season sprints past, we begin to see some common overuse injuries and conditions in these athletes.  While the vast majority of those seen in track and field affect the lower body, there are several common hand and upper extremity injuries and conditions seen in throwing events such as the javelin, shot put, hammer and discus.

Between weekly practices and weekend competitions, overuse injuries and conditions in throwing events account for most upper extremity injuries in track and field. These overuse conditions often affect the rotator cuff and shoulder labrum. Overuse conditions are those resulting from the repetitive use of a particular limb/joint(s) and are frequently seen in baseball, swim and tennis as well.

Other track and field injuries include ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tears of the elbow (also known as a Tommy John injury) and thumb.  Also metacarpal (hand) fractures are seen resulting from repeated stress on the small bones of the hand.

Rotator Cuff Injury

There are four tendons and muscles that make up what is known as the “rotator cuff,” providing coverage around the shoulder joint at the top of the humerus. The rotator cuff holds the arm in place and allows it to move with the broad range of motion we demand not only in everyday activity but also in many throwing sports. This broad range of motion, though, predisposes the shoulder to injury.  Repetitive stress on the rotator cuff can cause partial tears and swelling in the tendons.  A “high impact” stress, such as the powerful force required in these track and field throwing events, may cause one of the tendons to pull away from the bone or tear.rotator cuff injuries cropped

Rotator Cuff Injury Symptoms and Diagnosis

While most rotator cuff injuries can be slow to develop – producing nagging pain in the shoulder and arm, shoulder weakness and difficulty lifting the arm overhead – sometimes they can be quite sudden. In this case, athletes may feel a “pop,” followed by strong pain and a weakened arm.  An orthopedic specialist will assess the injury initially with a physical examination and review of the activity leading up to the injury.  This may be followed by a shoulder x-ray, MRI and/or arthrogram.  Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and will include a period of rehabilitation therapy. Conservative, nonsurgical treatment is often considered initially.  Surgery may be indicated if shoulder instability persists or there is a complete rotator cuff tear.

Shoulder Labrum Tear 

Another common track and field throwing injury is a shoulder labrum injury.  Among the most commonly diagnosed shoulder labrum condition in athletes involved in throwing sports is known as a SLAP (superior labrum, anterior to posterior) tear. The labrum works to keep the arm bone in the shoulder socket. When the ring of firm tissue that helps to make the shoulder more stable becomes stressed, it can result in a SLAP tear, compromising shoulder stability.    Often damage to the labrum occurs in those athletes who are also suffering from rotator cuff injury or weakness.slap-tear-1

SLAP Tear Symptoms and Diagnosis

Some of the common symptoms associated with SLAP disorders include a popping, clicking or catching in the shoulder during throwing activity, aching pain and feeling of weakness.  Beyond a physical examination, a diagnosis may include an MRI and/or an arthrogram.  Occasionally minimally invasive arthroscopy may be used to confirm a tear.  If a tear is confirmed, the surgeon may choose to repair it at the same time.

UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) Injury

Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) injuries of the elbow frequently occur in javelin as a result of the throwing motion and stress on the elbow.  Also known as a Tommy John injury, it is similar to the stress placed on the elbow in baseball.

The elbow is basically a “hinge” joint allowing not only bending and straightening but also rotation from palm up to palm down.  Several important ligaments in the elbow joint facilitate this range of motion, connecting the bones (ulna, radius, humerus) and forming part of a lubricating joint capsule.UCL of elbow

Two of the key ligaments for elbow joint stability  include the lateral collateral ligament and the UCL, which is also known as the medial collateral ligament because of its location on the elbow (inside).

When overuse of the joint (force on the soft tissue exceeds that of the structure’s tensile strength), such as in a throwing sport like javelin, places stress on the UCL, tears can develop.  The ligament stretches and lengthens to the point that it can no longer hold the bones tightly enough during throwing activities.

UCL Injury Symptoms and Diagnosis

Athletes suffering from this type of overuse condition may experience pain along the inside of the elbow, which is worse during the “acceleration phase” of throwing.  There may also be swelling, reduced range of motion and feeling of instability in the elbow.  Throwers may also have tingling or numbness in the “pinky” and ring fingers and experience difficulty throwing.

Diagnosis includes a physical examination, x-ray and an MRI.  Treatment is initially conservative and may include rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications, along with physical therapy to strengthen surrounding muscles and compensate for the injured UCL.  Following this, or in more severe cases, a UCL reconstruction may be indicated. Also known as Tommy John surgery (named for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher who first underwent the surgery), the procedure entails taking a tendon from another area of the patient’s body and replacing the injured UCL with it.

Metacarpal (Hand) Fracture

While less common than overuse injuries and conditions, hand fractures can result from the repetitive stress and force placed on the small bones of the hand.

With a total of 27 bones in the hand (14 phalanges, five metacarpal, eight carpal), more than half of the bones making up the entire upper extremity,metacarpals fractures are inevitable in sports placing extreme and repeated stress on the hands.

One such fracture is known as a metacarpal fracture, which affects the bone at the base of the finger closest to the wrist.

Metacarpal Fracture Symptoms and Diagnosis

Metacarpal fractures will cause immediate pain and possibly visible deformity. The injured finger(s) may swell, and there may be some bruising.

A physical examination and an x-ray Metacarpal hand fracture repairwill identify the location and severity of the fracture.  Treatment is determined based on whether the fracture is “stable” or “unstable” and the extent of injury.  More severe cases may require surgery and internal fixation (K-wires or plates and screws), followed by a period of splinting and hand therapy.

Prevention and Treatment

Understanding that adequate rest between practices and events is as important as the training will help reduce the likelihood that an overuse condition will result in a tear or stress fracture. Maintaining balanced strength and conditioning of opposing muscle groups is also an important prevention component.

When symptoms are addressed early, the injury often responds well to conservative treatment.

Protecting Fingers in Fall Sports

Behind the catches, interceptions, tips, tackles and returns are some of the most commonly reported sports injuries in football, as well as other fall and winter sports – finger injuries.Football Finger Injuries

Finger injuries actually represent one of the most common body injuries in sports in general and include sprains, dislocations, tendon damage and fractures. They are very common in football, basketball and volleyball.

Rarely does a finger injury go unnoticed.  They can be very painful and more challenging to heal, as our hands are constantly in use in everyday activity.Basketball Finger Injuries

Some of the most common causes of a finger sports injury include:

  • Struggle to maintain (as well as strip) a football
  • Clashes with teammates and opponents
  • Awkward and sudden impact with a ball
  • Catching or pulling on a jersey
  • Falls onto a hard surface

Sprains and DislocationsVolley Ball Finger Injuries

Finger sprains generally represent damage to the collateral ligaments, which are band-like structures that stabilize the finger and prevent side to side movement. It most frequently occurs in the mid finger. The little finger, middle finger and thumb are the fingers most affected in such injuries.

A finger sprain can vary in severity and is graded on a scale of 1-3. Grade 1 represents the mildest type of sprain, a stretched ligament.  Grade 2 is a partially torn ligament, and Grade 3 represents one that is completely torn.  When a Grade 3 finger sprain is sustained and bones are also out of place, altering joint surface contact, it is diagnosed as a finger dislocation.

A finger dislocation may be identified as an MCP (metacarpophalangeal), DIP (distal interphalangeal) or PIP (proximal interphalangeal) dislocation depending on the finger joint and bone it affects.

Finger sprains are also often referred to as a “jammed finger.”

Depending on the severity of a “jammed finger,” symptoms may include:

Finger Anatomy

 

  • Pain and immediate swelling
  • Bruising and pain during activity
  • Impaired function
  • Deformity
  • Stiffness and difficulty during gripping activity

Tendon Injuries

Tendons in the hand are tissues connecting muscle to bone, which when contracted pull on bones causing fingers to move. These muscles moving the fingers and thumb are located in the forearm – long tendons extending through the wrist and attaching to the small bones of the fingers and thumb.

The tendons on the top of the hand straighten the fingers and are known as extensor tendons. Those on the palm side bend the fingers and are known as the flexor tendons.

When fingers are bent or straightened, the flexor tendons slide through snug tunnels, called tendon sheaths, keeping the tendons in place next to the bones.  A tendon rupture disrupts this natural flow.

A relatively common tendon injury of the hand diagnosed in fall sports is a tendon rupture, also called a “Jersey Finger.”  This occurs in a “tear-away” type of activity, such as grasping a jersey with finger(s) in a flexed position – and then forced straight as the player quickly moves in another direction.  The result is loss of flexion at the DIP joint because of damage to the flexor tendon.

An injury to the tip of the finger may result in extensor tendon damage, which is also known as a “Mallet Finger.”

Symptoms of a flexor or extensor tendon rupture may include:

Flexor

  • An inability to bend one or more joints of your finger
  • Pain when your finger is bent
  • Tenderness along your finger on the palm side of your hand
  • Swelling of the finger

Extensor

  • Inability to open or extend the hand or fingers
  • Pain
  • Swelling or weakness of the finger
  • Cut to the back of the hand or fingers

Finger Fractures

Among the more severe finger injuries occurring in sports are finger fractures.  This is a break in one of the small bones of the finger.  Finger fractures may be stable or unstable.  Among the most common finger fractures include; distal phalanx (also known as a Tuft Fracture and associated with “crush” injuries), mallet, flexor digitorum profundus avulsion, and middle and proximal phalanx fractures (non-displaced, unstable, or displaced – which are usually more complex fractures to treat).

The correct diagnoses and treatment of a finger fracture, which can often mimic a finger sprain or dislocation in pain and symptoms, is imperative in ensuring optimal long-term function.

DIAGNOSIS

While many finger injuries can be diagnosed with a physical examination, an x-ray is indicated to more thoroughly assess the injured area or possible fracture – and severity of the injury. A CT scan may also be used to evaluate complex fractures. An MRI is often used when the soft tissues are involved (such as with tendon ruptures).

TREATMENT

Treatment for most finger injuries is nonsurgical, conservative approach that may involve RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), splinting, anti inflammatory medications for swelling/pain, and rehabilitation exercises.  Reduction may be performed on some simple fractures and supported with splinting or “buddy taping” (practice of taping the injured finger to a nearby uninjured finger to limit mobility and provide splint-like support).

More serious injuries and those unresponsive to conservative treatment may require surgical repair and an aggressive post-surgical hand and upper extremity therapy program.

PREVENTING INJURY

Injury prevention is always preferable for athletes wanting to give it their all during the sports season.  There are some things you can do to reduce risk of injury during sports this fall and the seasons to come:

  • Avoid wearing rings or other jewelry when playing.
  • Opt for closed fist rather than open hand approaches in volleyball and blocking in football.
  • Buddy taping (as mentioned above) can also be effective in preventing finger injury in a number of different sports.
  • Finger bracing should be worn in both practice and games until symptoms of a mildly injured/painful finger resolves, to avoid more serious injury/damage.
  • Finger and hand strengthening exercises can be beneficial.

Texter’s Thumb – A Modern Day Malady?

While science explains how changes in our daily physical activity result in changes in our physical state, current culture seems to dictate the terms we use to identify these changes – reflecting what’s going on in the world around us.

Technology use gives new name to repetitive stress condition.

Technology use gives new name to repetitive stress condition.

In early hunting days (1955), Gamekeeper’s Thumb was coined by an orthopedic surgeon who repeatedly diagnosed Scottish gamekeepers with a thumb condition seemingly associated with the manner in which they killed small animals – and carried their game home in a leather thong attached to their thumb and draped over their shoulder.

Over time it became more commonly referred to as Skier’s Thumb – as similar damage occurred to skiers falling against a planted ski pole.  Our affection for the slopes boosted the popularity of the new terminology.

Similarly today’s activities have resulted in a new way to incur a long established condition – and the terminology associated with the diagnosis will provide future generations with some insight into the culture of our day!

Known as “Texter’s Thumb,” (also BlackBerry Thumb and Gamer’s Thumb),
de Quervain’s Disease or Syndrome is a painful inflammation of the tendons (fibrous connective tissue attaching muscle to bone), which control thumb movement and extend to the wrist (tenosynovitis).  The inflamed and swollen tendons and their coverings rub against the narrow tunnel through which they pass – causing pain at the base of the thumb which may extend to the lower arm.

Today's Texter's Thumb is  actually de Quervain's Disease.

Today’s Texter’s Thumb is actually de Quervain’s Disease.

Historically, this condition has also been called washerwoman’s sprain, mother’s wrist and mommy thumb.

Considered a repetitive stress injury (RSI), de Quervain’s Disease is often the result of repetitive activity/grasping – which results in irritation of the tendons and other soft tissue in the thumb.  The condition may also be caused by a direct blow to the thumb and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

In the activity of texting, it is thought that the problem is not caused by the tip of the thumb pressing the keys on a phone, but rather the frequent traveling of the thumb over the keyboard. The thumb joint is not meant to move rapidly in this manner – the confined space adding insult to injury.

Symptoms of Texter’s Thumb

Common symptoms of Texter’s Thumb (de Quervain’s syndrome) include swelling and pain that can run from the tip of the thumb to the wrist and into the forearm. This pain is primarily present when the wrist is flexed or turned – as well as when forming a fist or grabbing. There can also be pain when direct pressure is applied to the area.

Diagnosing Texter’s Thumb

To diagnose de Quervain’s, a physical examination and discussion of lifestyle and activity is assessed.  A Finkelstein test may also be performed.  This entails placing the thumb against the hand, making a fist with fingers closed over the thumb and then bending the wrist towards the little finger.  Pain with this maneuver is a positive test.

Finklestein's Test may be used in diagnosing de Quervain's.

Finkelstein’s Test may be used in diagnosing de Quervain’s.

Generally, this type of injury is treated conservatively and entails refraining from texting for a while (activity modification) and resting the affected thumb(s). Non steroidal anti inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) may also be prescribed and a splint that incorporates the thumb may be indicated.   When pain persists despite rest and refrain from the activity causing the condition, a steroid injection may be recommended. In chronic or severe cases, surgery to release the pressure in the compartment is performed – followed by rehabilitation therapy to regain strength. If untreated, the synovial sheaths will continue to thicken and degenerate. This can result in permanent damage and loss of grip strength and chronic pain.

 

Keeping Young Players in the Game This Season …. and the Next

Pitch Count Guidelines and Little League Recommendations

Last month we discussed the increase in injuries among Little Leaguers – particularly the prevalence of “Little Leaguer’s Elbow.”  We continue this discussion in this month’s blog with some of the things that the American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) and the USA Baseball, Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball organizations have done to ensure the safe play of our young athletes today….and tomorrow.

Avoiding little league injuries.

Pitch count regulations developed to reduce risk of injury in young players.

 New Recommendations

While curve balls are implicated in throwing injuries of the young athlete, because of inadequate physical development and neuromuscular control, scientific data does not yet support this.  Nonetheless, reducing the use of curve balls in Little League pitching is highly recommended.

Other recommendations include: 

  • Watching and responding to fatigue (decreased ball velocity/accuracy, upright trunk during pitching, dropped elbow during pitching, or increased time between pitches). If a youth pitcher complains of fatigue or looks fatigued, let him rest from pitching and other throwing.
  • No overhead throwing for at least two to three months per year (four months is preferred). No competitive baseball pitching for at least four months per year.
  • No pitching more than 100 innings in games – in any calendar year.
  • Follow limits for pitch counts and days of rest.
  • Avoid pitching on multiple teams with overlapping seasons.
  • Learn good throwing mechanics. First steps should be, in order: 1) basic throwing, 2) fastball pitching, 3) change-up pitching.
  • Avoid using radar guns.
  • A pitcher should not also be a catcher. The pitcher-catcher combination results in many throws and may increase the risk of injury.
  • If a pitcher complains of elbow or shoulder pain, discontinue pitching until evaluated by a sports medicine physician.

Pitch Count

The pitch count restrictions for Little League Baseball were established to reduce the number of overuse throwing injuries among these young players and vary by age.  While the complete pitch count restrictions/recommendations can be reviewed on the ASMI website (www.asmi.org ), below is a listing of the latest Little League “daily” limits.

Daily Limits
17-18 N/A 105/day
15-16 N/A 95/day
13-14 75/game 95/day
11-12 75/game 85/day
9-10 50/game 75/day
7-8 N/A 50/day

(Resources – recommendations and pitch count: American Sports Medicine Institute, Position Statement for Youth Baseball Pitchers http://www.asmi.org/research.php?page=research&section=positionStatement

 

Little Leaguer’s Elbow

With baseball season in full swing we begin to see an increase in upper extremity injuries in young athletes. One of the most common injuries we treat is a throwing injury known as medial apophysitis, or “Little Leaguer’s Elbow.”

This condition occurs when the repetitive stress of frequent throwing places excessive strain on the tendons, ligaments and cartilage of the elbow joint.  In the young player and immature elbow this is particularly concerning because of the damage it can cause to the growth plate.

The two “phases” of throwing which impact the elbow joint include the early acceleration phase (a pulling force on the growth plate of the inner elbow) and the throwing/release phase (strong inward and downward snap of the wrist).  A hinge and pivot joint, the elbow allows a broad range of motion.  The growth plate in the elbow, though, is comprised of growth cartilage – a soft substance that is not as strong as bone.  With repetitive stress, this growth cartilage can weaken, develop small fissures and in more severe cases pull apart from the bone. The repeated pulling can also tear ligaments and tendons away from the bone – possibly pulling tiny bone fragments with it.  In a young player, this could potentially disrupt normal bone growth and result in deformity.

Another less common though more serious throwing injury, known as Osteochondritis Dissecans, can occur in young athletes and involves the loosening and fragmenting of immature bone and cartilage. The pain associated with this condition is usually felt on the outside of the elbow.

Both prevention and early treatment of Little Leaguer’s Elbow are key for young players.

Symptoms of Little Leaguer’s Elbow

The most common symptom associated with Little Leaguer’s Elbow is pain on the inside of the elbow, which may be severe and occur abruptly, or mild – increasing in intensity, gradually over time.  Other symptoms may include swelling, redness and warmth over the inner elbow.  Range of motion may be restricted in some players, with an inability to straighten the elbow.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A physical examination and pain assessment will help diagnose Little Leaguer’s Elbow.  An X-ray or MRI may be indicated to assess irregularities in the elbow joint and growth plate damage.

When diagnosed early, nonsurgical treatment can effectively resolve the problem and may entail rest (refraining from throwing activity), as well as icing to reduce swelling.  Sports rehabilitation specialists may also be able to help young players refine their throwing technique to reduce stress on the elbow joint.

In more severe cases, surgery may be required to reattach a ligament and/or the bone or growth plate  – stabilizing the elbow joint.

Preventing Throwing Injuries in Little League Baseball

Understanding the impact of throwing injuries on the immature elbow is key for coaches, parents and players.  Risk of injury can be reduced by properly warming up and ensuring proper throwing technique.  And adequate rest is as equally important as practice for optimal performance.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends that young pitchers play no more than three to four innings each game, to prevent throwing injuries.

Pitch Count Guidelines and Little League Regulations

As competition in youth sports intensify and seasons extend to include tournaments and World Series games, we are seeing an alarming increase in throwing injuries in the young player.  This has prompted the American Sports Medicine Institute, together with USA Baseball, Little League Baseball and Major League Baseball to examine the impact of excessive throwing on the young, skeletally immature athlete.  Their findings have translated into new regulations, pitch count guidelines and educational initiatives in Little League Baseball.

Next month we’ll talk about pitch count guidelines and its role in protecting young baseball players.